In last week’s post, I talked about the realities of getting staarted as a freelancer, especially in a media or creative field. So, let’s begin you’ve had an extremely productive week, and you’ve done it. You’re a freelancer now. The freedom was seductive. You’ve started fresh, thrown off the shackles of wage slavery, abandoned the corporate rat race, and determined once and for all that you’re not going to play by their rules anymore! ATT-I-CA! ATT-I-CA!
Not so fast, hotshot.
The life of a freelancer in any field, especially media and creative, is full of adventure. It always has been. These days, however, it’s much more likely to be fraught with the dangers of tax filing than swordplay.
Operating as a working freelancer
A big part of success in starting any business is networking with like-minded people. Even more so with freelancers in creative-related industries. Taking a look at how other freelancers are handling life as a freelancer can yield some pretty good insights. Here are some from some Michigan indepreneurs with things to say:
Milda Bublys, co-founder with Sarah Schrift of (aptly enough) Sarah and Milda Jewelry, at 8:33 a.m. on a Friday morning describes the freelance life as, “exhausting. Hopping from job #1, to job #2, and then finally, job #3 today.” I’m a big fan of The 4-Hour Workweek, but even (perhaps especially) Tim Ferriss will admit that getting to a place where a small, solopreneurial enterprise doesn’t require you to put in double-digit hours on several days in a given week is a process.
There’s no doubt that there are easier ways to make money. In fact, Darren Cardinal, owner of Detroit Agapes Harder calls the lifestyle, “Hit or miss. Some days/weeks/months I’m sit fairly comfortable. Then [I] have periods where I’m glad I have a sense of saving.” I can relate to that. I can better relate to days when I wish I had a better sense of saving. When you’re operating without the (perceived) safety net of steady paychecks, things can get harrowing pretty quickly if the bills get behind and the accounts receivable dry up.
But, it does have its rewards. “It is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but by far the best,” says ghostwriter and blogger Sorilbran Stone, “I’ve had to stand on my own two feet. There’s no cushion between me and my successes or my failures and at least for me, it’s a better life. I don’t mind the ups and downs, what I do mind is having Michael Scott for a boss. So, there.”
So, there, indeed. My best pieces of advice: Surround yourself with people who get it. Find other players in The Game. Seek out great mentorship. Look to those who have done it to get insight into how to do it. What may seem like an impossible dream becomes much more of a practical reality when we follow in our forebears footsteps.
Online, check out the following links. I won’t tell you what they are here. Go find out for yourself! (But, do come back and comment!)
The staff and students have been fantastic, and a couple of days ago, I got a question that delighted me: What tips do you have for starting my freelance business?
I love that question because it addresses another one immediately: What is freelancing? The quick answer is, “Running your own business.” But, a lot of people don’t make that leap. They think of being a freelancer as “moonlighting”, “working on the side”, “dabbling”, and things like that. In reality, anyone who has decided to engage in a professional, money-generating enterprise without working as an employee is at least an independent contractor (you can tell by the 1099). And, congratulations – that means you’re in business.
That said, media types and creatives are not typical contractors – because there is no such creature. The fundamental areas you must pay attention to are the same for everyone: organizing your startup, getting involved in your field, setting the right prices, and connecting with your customers. But, each area will look a little different than they would for an attorney, a roofer, a management consultant, or even a freelance print journalist. Let’s take a brief peek at how these areas break down in general and for media freelancers specifically. I’ll list some resources available to help in each area, too. Some of the info here is applicable anywhere, but since we’re in Michigan, that’s where I’m going to focus.
Build your team
Since you’re starting up a new business, it makes sense to follow the same principles I advise everyone on: find a good team and good resources, so you can focus on what you do best. That is your role. No one runs any business successfully on their own in the long run, even as a freelancer.
This is even more imperative when embarking on a more creative-driven field, unless you’re the kind of video editor or graphic designer who just loves doing tax accounting. Yeah, didn’t think so.
What does this all mean? Get an attorney and an accountant. Yes, this can be intimidating.
You know what’s more intimidating? A terse letter from the IRS (Uncle Kernan used the word “terse” when we were talking this week, so I had to mix it in). So, yeah, start looking – making sure you have professionals covering you on the legal and financial sides is invaluable.
Luckily, smart networking can help you get to the right people. A good legal resource I’ve interacted with a tiny bit is, aptly, Lori Tollefson Williams’s Your Legal Resource, PLLC. She could be a good person to ask for referrals to legal resources who may actually be able to help. On the financial side, the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants seems to be a pretty good place to find accountants. If you can get a personal referral, though, you’ll probably get more information.
Plan and execute
Yes, those professionals do work for actual money. After all, starting a business means investing in yourself and your future, just like paying for your education or investing in your 401K. Similarly, just like in those cases, you may not need to foot the whole bill yourself. You may even be able to get a loan to help you get started. Rest assured, you are going to need to put up some of your own cash to make your dream come true, but there are a bunch of resources out there to help the budding entrepreneur get going.
Again, you’ll need great resources. You’ll need good advice and some kind of plan. and you’ll need the determination and discipline necessary to follow through, even during the tough times.
Here are some terrific fonts of knowledge to learn from:
SBA: Every level of government provides several resources to help people get businesses started. SBA is a good place to start discovering that.
SBDTC: The Michigan SBDTC is another example, with offices dedicated to counseling businesses across the state.
When you’ve talked to your legal and financial experts, explored the resources available to you as a budding freelancer, and you’re finally ready to get your business set up, the Michigan Business One Stop is the next logical stop. There, you will be able to put some things in motion to become official. What fun!
Actually, it can be a lot of fun, but this is where the money usually starts coming into the picture. It may be time to get some advice tailored directly toward what you are trying to do as a freelancer. Now would be a good time for SCORE, people with experience in a ton of different fields. Important: If you’re going into a media-related field, you should really meet with Bob Giles. He has decades of experience in TV production, he’s a good friend mine, and as I found out this week, he’s also a good friend of Specs Howard’s very own Dick Kernan. Call the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce to set an appointment (the number is at the bottom of the page). In fact, you should get familiar with all of Michigan’s chambers of commerce.
Notice how I saved the money part for last? Capital, cash flow, money, life’s blood — that funny green stuff is what you need to survive, live, and thrive as a freelancer of any kind. But where does it come from? First, probably your family, friends, and savings account. Being a freelancer means that you’re also in sales, and your first and continuing sales job will be selling you to people who can help you.
Once you’ve tapped those sources and gotten advice about talking to banks (Huntington Bank has a great reputation for small business lending), check out some of the following sources:
CEED: A place to go when other institutional lenders have turned you down, CEED will do more than lend you money; the process of seeking funding through them will make you a better businessperson.
Kickstarter: I think it’s safe to say Kickstarter is currently the hottest source of funding for creative projects.
Kiva Detroit: Earlier this month, Inc. magazine dropped the title Startup City on Detroit. The fact that Detroit is the first Kiva City can’t hurt.
I’m also cooking up something with the Ferndale DDA that will be really exciting along those lines for local entrepreneurs. Stay tuned.
… And that’s not all.
This post only addresses getting started; all of this activity falls under that “organizing your startup” area I mentioned above. Over the next three Fridays, I’ll address the other three areas of focus to put you on the right track to starting your freelance career on the right foot. And if you have any resources to share, pop them in the comments so we can check them out.
Until then, be inspired by one of my favorite entrepreneurship videos! Be careful, though, you may accidentally learn something from it. (But, probably not.)
Hello, weary Internet traveler. Here are the problems you may have and how I can give you solutions for them:
Problem: You want a Web site built.
Solution: I explain to you the kind of site you need. Then, my team builds it. Contact me for more info on the process.
Problem: Your online / social media marketing efforts are not giving you the return you’d like.
Solution: You contact me. We discover your goals. Design and implementation of a plan to achieve those goals begins.
Ready? Send me a message or email me at Ron@romacoma.com. I'm looking forward to it!
Teaching, training, coaching, and consulting in areas involving social media, workforce development, web development, small-business startup, marketing, and traditional media.